Cloud interoperability: Problems and best practices

As more applications find their way to the cloud, data portability and other issues are coming to the fore.

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Ideas International's Iams agrees that cloud providers will look at being more interoperable if the market forces them to be.

Sand Hill's Pemmaraju says, "Traditionally during periods of innovation there are few, if any standards. Everyone is trying to gain market share lead. We will see companies that glue things together, such as CloudSwitch, appear. We should see common cloud APIs be developed that are sitting on top of proprietary cloud APIs, and then these common APIs will forge the standard. We are not there yet." He expects interoperability standards to start becoming available in the next year or two.

Pemmaraju says that there are a lot of cloud vendors today because the market is in its early phases, and he predicts that players will continue to come in to the market. But within two to three years, vendor consolidation will bring that number down to three or four major players. Then, customers will have to make a choice around a stack --- are you going to use Java or C#, are you going to be a Ruby shop and so on.

Experts advise that lock-in really happens at the platform layer --- Windows Azure, VMware, etc. --- choose one, and that is the supplier you will stick with.

Clouds by the numbers

A big push behind cloud interoperability will happen as more large companies adopt hybrid clouds. A recent survey by the Sand Hill Group asked cloud providers who they believe will drive cloud adoption over the next two to three years. The survey indicates that about 85% of vendors' revenue comes from small and medium-size businesses today, but in two to three years it will be almost entirely from Fortune 500 firms, the vendors predict.

A large majority of the growth in cloud computing revenue over the next two to three years is expected to be with private and hybrid clouds. Public clouds are almost entirely an SMB phenomenon, Pemmaraju says.

SMBs are looking for SaaS applications, in large part to reduce their already small data center footprint. Because SMBs do not have large data centers, it is easier for them to get rid of their servers, data centers and internal applications, and move completely to the public cloud. Of course, regulatory and other constraints can prevent even SMBs from moving to public clouds en masse.

On the other hand, large enterprises have significant financial investments in their existing data centers. They are not about to switch off all their servers and move to public clouds, says Pemmaraju. Instead, they are actively building or looking at building private clouds. They will likely use public clouds on a limited basis. But a majority of their applications will run in their data center on private clouds.

As this scenario plays out for large enterprises, we will gradually see a greater need for hybrid clouds and cloud interoperability.

Bill Claybrook is an analyst with over 30 years of experience in the computer industry, and has specialties in Linux, open source, virtualization and cloud computing. He is president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass., and holds a PhD in computer science. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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